Where Are They Now?” is a blog series where we catch up with past Lambda Legal plaintiffs. For November, we are highlighting Theresa Volpe & Mercedes Santos, who we represented in Darby v. Orr, a 2012 case that advocated for marriage equality for same-sex couples in Illinois.
The couple, who then had been together for over 20 years, had two beautiful children, Ava (8) and Jaidon (4). One day, Jaidon was rushed to the hospital for kidney failure, and Theresa, the birth mother, was denied entrance into his room because an administrator told her the child’s “real mom” was already with him. After Jaidon left the hospital, the couple decided that it was time to fight for marriage equality in their state. They didn’t want this mistreatment to happen to another same-sex couple.
In their own words, they discuss what happened at the hospital, why marriage provides protection and stability to families, and the impact the 2022 Midterms could have on overturning marriage equality.
When I met Mercedes at work in Chicago more than 31 years ago, it felt like fate. As our love grew over the years, so did our family. First came our daughter Ava, then our son Jaidon. In 2010, Jaidon fell gravely ill and was hospitalized for kidney failure. We were terrified, and our main concern was being by his side. But because this was before marriage equality was legal, a hospital administrator refused to let me join Mercedes in Jaidon’s room because his “real mom” was already with him, even though I am his birth mother. Because civil unions weren’t possible then, I had to either tell them that I was the “stepmom” or sit in the waiting room.
Fortunately, Jaidon pulled through, but that heartbreaking dilemma was another reminder that Mercedes and I NEEDED to be legally married so our family could have the same stability and protections that straight couples have. Had I been able to say that Mercedes was “my wife,” I wouldn’t have been shunned. For us, marriage is about our love, our commitment, and our responsibility for our family, just like our parents’ marriages’ and our siblings’ marriages.
Knowing that we didn’t want this to happen to anyone else, in 2012, we joined Lambda Legal and other same-sex couples in Illinois seeking the freedom to marry through the courts and through the legislature. Our efforts helped get a marriage equality law passed in the state legislature and Lambda Legal later won marriage equality nationwide with the 2015 Obergefell decision.
It’s been a decade since, and of course, we got married and even welcomed a third child, Lennox! We are just as grateful to Lambda Legal now as we were back then. Because of their tireless work advocating for marriage equality in Illinois and beyond, so many more same-sex families have the protections and rights that come with marriage. Most importantly, our love was finally recognized, and we couldn’t be more proud.
Even though marriage equality is currently legal in every state, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, it became clear to us: Obergefell may be next. We cannot let that happen. Mercedes and I are confident that Lambda Legal and its supporters and donors will always have our backs and will stand up to discrimination so that this generation of LGBTQ+ people and the next, can live freer and more equal lives under the law.